Friday, October 28, 2016

Darth Maul: Apprentice





"Fan Film"

That corner of fandom that can't help but get kind of creepy in a "way too much love, way too intensely" kind of way. Driven by obsession and zealotry, it's a scene that can sometimes create some surprising and interesting pieces of art, but is perhaps more likely to pump out some unbelievably wrong-headed garbage that gives new meaning to the phrase "lack of self-awareness".

I've been curious about fan films lately, so I've been watching them. Now I'm sharing them with you.

Oh crap, today's fan film features Darth Maul!

God help us all...

Darth Maul is often called the best part of the movie Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. This always reminds me of the scene in Monty Python's Holy Grail where Arthur rides by and one peasant says: "He must be a King," The other peasant says: "How do you know?" And the first peasant says: "He doesn't have shit all over him."

Finding out a Darth Maul fan film exists is like... the least surprising thing in the entire universe.

I bet the guy who plays Darth Maul was already dressed like this when his buddies called his Mom's house and were like: "Dude, do you want to be in our Darth Maul fan film?" And all he says, in a whispered monotone, is: "My whole life has led me to this moment." I kid, I kid, don't mind me. I'm sure he has a very nice Basement apartment...

Anyway, Darth Maul: Apprentice was Written and Directed by Shawn Bu, who has mostly worked on other short films that I'm not familiar with, as far as I can tell. The film's synopsis goes a little something like thus: With his training almost complete, Darth Maul must face six Jedi in order to reach his true potential, and become a Dark Lord of the Sith. Six against one, huh? Uh oh... This is a "fight" fan film, I guess. You all know what that means, right? I think we're about to watch a buttload of Nerds doing some not very impressive kung fu.

Brace yourselves.



Well...

That was a lot better than I expected.

The production values were a lot higher than I was expecting, as was the fighting. Sure, there was a ton of unnecessary flipping, but that's true with all Jedi fights. That's what makes them kind of dumb. And yes, some of the actors were better at interacting with the CGI than others, but what're you gonna do? That's simply the level of talent you're working with on projects like these. They also managed to craft a decent--albeit small and simple--arc for the main character, and yet got it to fit nicely with the established canon. The make-up looked good too, and I liked how they made each Jedi a somewhat distinct archetype. Plus, I also liked how they only had a couple of aliens, and the ones they did have, they put effort into their look, but didn't try to overdo it. This tells me they were aware of their limitations and tried to work within them. I appreciate that about a smaller film-maker.

All in all, this was a surprisingly good job, I'm sorry I poked fun at them earlier in the post.

Well... not THAT sorry.

You know what else? Honestly, this is exactly the type of scene Maul needed in Phantom Menace, something that should have happened early in the movie in order to establish him and his bad ass credit. If you insert something like this, suddenly his first fight doesn't end with him dying at the end, like a big false alarm, and then he doesn't feel like such a one-off throwaway characater. This wouldn't have fixed the movie, of course, it still would've been basically unwatchable garbage, but at least the character wouldn't have been a complete whiff.

Not bad,
Jon


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Exile









"Fan Films"

The security blanket of creative endeavors. I guess I can understand the appeal somewhat. The pre-made, already well known--and often beloved universes, characters, and relationships--basically all the hard work already done, that's a lot of pressure taken off before you even get started. It must seem like a fast and easy way to get right to the "fun" of the story. I get that. Writing isn't easy, especially world and character building. It can be intimidating, and maybe you just want to practice story-telling? I can see that, I guess. However, if you stay under that security blanket too long, people are never going to look at you as anything other than a baby.

Anyway... fan films, I've been watching them lately, and then sharing them with you.

STAR WARS EXILE is supposedly just the first episode of a longer work, however, a very quick --and admittedly not that interested--search didn't reveal any later ones, so who knows if this project is till rolling or not. Either way, today's fan film was Directed by Noel Braham and Pokey Spears. They both star in it as well. Plus, truly a triple threat, it was written by Noel Braham too, and George Lucas apparently, at least according to the credits.

...I'm sure he appreciates the acknowledgment.

The Synopsis goes like this: Jedi around the galaxy are being viciously hunted and killed by the evil Galactic Empire. Aware of the imminent danger, Jedi Master Boemana Tora and her Padawan Makal Lori, flee to the outer rim systems close to the planet of Lothal.

That sounds all right, I guess, but it's yet another example of Star Wars and its fandom leaning way too hard on the Jedi crutch, so that's a little old and dull at this point. There's other non-Jedi shit that goes on in the far, far away galaxy, right? Can't tell by looking... Ten bucks says this film centers around a young Jedi Knight resisting the pull of the Darkside... again. Well, at least it takes place in a time period of the Star Wars Universe that I'm interested in (Just before A New Hope). The biggest plus of this fan film though, at least for me, is that it looks like there's a lot of POC involved in this particular project, and that does interest me.

So all right then, let's check it out...


Well, the opening was fun.

It was nice seeing an economical use of Darth Vader. That was well done. It shows a nice sense of control and self-awareness on the part of the Director. Plus, on a side note, they get bonus points from me for the chubby Stormtrooper. Gotta love local talent. Seriously though, the opening crawl and the slow pan down to the planet all felt very Star Wars-y, so as far as the first half is concerned, they did a very good job there.

But after that... things kind of fell apart.

I thought it was interesting that they linked it to the Rebels cartoon, but in what turned out to be kind of a trend, they stopped too short. It was odd that they chose to set this film on a planet "near Lothal" instead of just "on Lothal". Especially with the recognizable skyline in the background. Why do that? Also, why does the planet they were on not get a name?

I also really didn't like the designs and stylistic choices of the Sith Inquisitor. To me, there's a very boring, very cliched way of playing the "pure evil" guy, and this was basically it. Every single facet of the character was just Community Theatre level bad choices. It felt too much like a first thoughts character sketch. Too familiar. Too dull. All around uninspired.

Honestly, pretty much everything about the back half of this film felt off. The dialogue was stilted and way too wordy, and all of it was the kind of wordy nonsense that's better let unsaid and shown, rather then having a character say through clenched teeth, y'know? The fighting was also stiff and clunky, which isn't really surprising for this level of thing, but then the overall oddly paced and choreographed encounter was. The motivation of the two Jedis in general was basically unclear. I get that they're on the run, and that this is supposed to be the first episode of a larger story, but it was all too vague. Why were they even there in the first place? Where were they going? Also, did the Jedi Master turn evil at the end? What was that? It was too hard to tell without any concrete interaction.

All in all, I felt like there was too much focus on what they thought they needed to tell in order to start this story, and not enough of what they actually needed. It ended up being such a weird contrast to the first half of the film in terms of quality.

Plus, didn't it look like the young Jedi flew off in a Colonial Viper in the end?

That was weird.

Disappointed,
Jon


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Hawkeye





"Fan film"

It's the AV Club of fandom, a place people gravitate towards out of love, but often get stuck due to their obsessions and fears. It's an endeavor that could maybe catapult a person to real work, or perhaps more likely, it can dead-end quickly, by bogging themselves down in minutiae and pointless headcanon. I'm usually not that interested in this particular dark corner of fandom, but a few recent up-roars and conversations have made me curious, so I've set aside my usual out-of-hand dismissal, and I've sought out some examples, just to see what's what.

And now I'm sharing my finds with you, you lucky ducks.

HAWKEYE was a Marvel comic written by Matt Fraction, and drawn by David Aja. I've mentioned it a time or two or three before now. The synopsis was simple: Clint Barton is the greatest Archer in the World. He's the Avenger known as Hawkeye. He has helped to save the world multiple times over. This is what he does on his day off.  It was an arty comic. It was a funny comic. It was an honest comic. It was a comic about responsibility, loyalty, and being a hero. It's a comic that pushed boundaries in the ways the stories were told through both the words and the pictures.







It is, above all, a deceptively simple comic.

Which is why a fanfilm version seems like one of the worst ideas ever. It will be very easy to fall back on some broad beats and iconic looks, all while missing the thematic thread entirely, which means it will be very easy for whomever it is that's making this thing to fuck it up.

Which I expect they will.

Here's the Fan Film's Synopsis: Hawkeye (Clint Barton) has the day off and he just wants to waste the day messing with unimportant tasks around his apartment. That is until Hawkeye (Kate Bishop) shows up to drag him off to something he doesn’t want to do.

All right then. Here we go... Fingers crossed.


Yeah, so that was about what I expected.

This film isn't bad so much as it reminds me of the time post Reservior Dogs when every wannbe writer out there (including yours truly) was writing faux-Tarantino dialogue. It was all overly in love with itself, and completely dragged for everyone but the author.

That's this.

This film is basically nothing but a greatest hits. It's a "tropes of Hawkeye" tour. It's like a grocery list of "things they've done in the comic". It's nothing but a big "Hey, remember this?" inside joke for fans, but made in such a way that it's not something most fans would actually like. And that's not even getting to the fact that the film has no story. Yes, the comic will often seem meandering, and focused on inconsequential moments, but those moments then circle back around to have a larger point. That's what makes it a good comic. This was just... trying too hard, but didn't seem to understand what it was aiming for. I will say that the actors weren't bad. Also, it definitely looked good, even though the Pizza Dog POV totally failed. Here's a question though, how come every short film out there that features a bow and arrow always seems to be using a toy bow?

Two Nitpicks:
1. Hawkeye is your typical down-on-his-luck schlub, right? However, despite this, he's also uber-competent. That's how it is that he is able to survive in the Avengers' superhero battles as the bow and arrow guy. He would've made that ricochet shot.

2. Hawkeye wears purple converse. It's in pretty much every issue, bro.

Missed the target,
Jon

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Lila Cheney ft. Dazzler and the New Mutants






I mentioned fan films yesterday. I warned you I was going to be sharing some. Well... now I'm delivering on that threat. First up is a film that I think is called I WILL STEAL YOUR HEART. It features Lila Cheney, Alison Blaire, and the New Mutants.

I know what you're saying... who?

And thus, we see the true essence of the fan film. In order for someone to want to make a fan film, they have to be SUPER into whatever it is they're making the film about. SUPER into it. You're a "fan", get it? And not a casual one either, no, no, no, you have the type of person that often reminds other people that the word "Fan" is derived from the word "Fanatic", know what I mean?

Lila Cheney, Alison Blaire, and the New Mutants are all somewhat lesser known X-Men characters. You know... from the Hugh Jackman movies?

Anyway, Lila Cheney was a rock star with the mutant ability to teleport over vast intergalactic distances. Alison Blaire was also a rock star, but she was X-Men as well, known as Dazzler, and had the mutant ability to turn sound into different types of light, like lasers, for instance, or bright flashes, or sometimes lasers. The New Mutants were a rotating cast of young teens at the Xavier School of Mutants who were too young to be X-Men. They were emo before emo was even a word. I read the title on occasion, but not a lot. Mostly I just remember them crying. A lot. And when they weren't crying, they seemed to go to a lot of Lila Cheney concerts.


Which is basically what I think this fan-film is about. It might also be a music video.

The official synopsis is an appropriate blurt of confusing nonsense: The sequel to the 2014 DAZZLER music video, "I WILL STEAL YOUR HEART" sees the NEW MUTANTS attending a concert by LILA CHENEY, the hottest underground rock act in the galaxy!

Oh, man, this could turn out to be terrible...



You know what? I kind of loved that.

I'm not saying it was genius or anything, but as goofy, made-in-Canada as the thing looked, it was fun, and silly, and honestly, maybe the most source-accurate fan film I've ever seen. Really, all that was missing was Rahne crying. The characters were totally on point. It was ridiculously earnest. They even had a nod to the Sam Guthrie/Lila Cheney romance, something that even as a kid seemed kind of weird to me, since Sam was presumably supposed to be somewhere around 16 and Lila was a rock star presumably in her 20. I mean, if Sam isn't old enough to be on the X-Men, he's obviously not old enough to handle Marvel's Joan Jett/Pat Benatar knock-off, amirite?

But, here's the really weird thing...think about this for a second... All that goofy/fun fan love stuff aside, what the hell was this? A randomly accurate bit of cosplaying? A surprise music video sneakily disguised as fan film? What was this for? Why was it made? Did anyone actually buy the music?

And for an added bonus of fucking weird, check out the previously mentioned Dazzler video...


Longshot's wig, people... what the fuck? Seriously, what the hell are these?

Jon

Monday, October 17, 2016

Updates



Finally.

I know you've been wondering what's up with me, right?

Fantastic Fest was awesome. You should definitely check it out, if you can. It was awesome, but it was also exhausting, and it killed my motivation. I am dead, at least writing-wise. Or I was. I've been sick with the Fantastic Flu too, and more than a little bit lazy for the past few weeks to boot, so I'm only really feeling alive again now. That means it's time to for me to get back to work. I've got a pretty big backlog waiting for to put up on the blog, not to mention some pretty big writing plans for the rest of this year, and on into the next one too. These plans might be ambitious, maybe too ambitious, but screw it, I'm getting back into stuff, and getting back into stuff means just one thing...

UPDATES!

Let's do this.

For this latest post at least, you may be reading it on my personal blog, but you could have been led here by an alert posted on The Scribblerati blog.


The Scribblerati, as all y'all long time readers out there well know, is my writing group. We're all good people. We also have a blog. And when it comes to our blog, we're all really lazy about keeping it updated... all of us, that is, except Mark. Mark is super-nice, super-talented, and super-motivated, and he thoughtfully updates the blog pretty regularly, which makes the rest of us look bad... damn you, Mark... So, in an effort to redeem myself, this is me cheating a little, and  using this to fulfill part of Writing Group Blog Duties. Double-blogged!

Ha! In your face, Mark.


On to business...

So, I'm still working on a new 2nd draft of Agatha Ironhand, but the middle is too soft, and it feels like it's lacking purpose. It's frustrating, and probably a familiar issue to writers, but it makes me worry that the book might fall apart in my hands. It's certainly happened before, but at least that time I was able to finish the first draft still. My hope now lies in that 1st Draft. I wasn't very happy with it the first time around, but while paging through it recently, I did find some stuff that I really liked, stuff I had forgotten that I had written. So, my current plan is to read through the whole draft, mark it up, and maybe transplant some of the old stuff into the new stuff. Maybe. After that, we'll see what we see. The book might survive. It might not. Either way, I'm setting it aside for a bit to work on some other stuff. Hopefully I'll return to it.

Fingers crossed.


The "other stuff" I alluded to is mostly a bunch of Short Stories.

I've had a bunch of ideas that have been piling up for awhile, not to mention a handful of short stories that need more work, so I've been tearing through them. The goal is to First Draft them all, work them in the group, edit, re-write, re-workshop and re-draft, and then hopefully, soon enough, I'll have a bunch of stuff to send out all at once. I'm already well underway too. Between the old stories and a few new things, I have nine stories ready to 2nd draft, and seven waiting in line to get started. That's a lot, but I figure it's padded in case of flame-outs. Anyway, the coming year will see me sending them all out, over and over again, until something happens with them. Then, depending on how things go, maybe I'll put together a collection. Who knows.

by Tom Gauld

The other "other stuff" is that I've been thinking about participating in NaNoWriMo. That's the stupid acronym for The National Novel Writing Month. That month is November. The idea behind NaNoWriMo (so stupid...) is pretty self-explanatory. Basically, you write a novel in a month. Not a good novel, mind you, but a draft, or at least most of one. This also means, forget about editing, forget about over-thinking, you just write like you're running top speed downhill. Keep going, don't stop, or you'll eat it. I haven't signed up or anything yet, but I've got a couple of ready ideas, and a couple of weeks still to decide, but the challenge seems appealing.


As for the blog, I've got a whole bunch of short films lined up to share with you, and at least for the next week or so, I've also got a kind of theme going on.

That theme? Fan Films.

Fan Films are exactly what they sound like. They're short films by people with a shocking amount of free time, who like to make movies about well-known, high-level geek properties, despite an often crippling lack of money, equipment, and/or talent. These films usually aren't parodies. Those are more like comedy skits. The type of fan films I'm talking about are more sincere. In fact, they're usually overly sincere, more than a little overly serious, and most likely unnecessarily dark as well. Often times the end result is something along the lines of the Power/Rangers fan film that Joseph Khan made, but with a lot less self-awareness.


To be fair, Joseph Kahn is also much more talented than the usual fare.

This all leads back to why I usually don't share fan films here when I'm posting shorts... It's because they're usually god awful. Like I said, there's often a crippling lack of money, equipment, and/or talent. However, some recent controversies, a few lawsuits, and the resulting fandom hubbub have brought the idea of fan-films, the true red-headed step-children of fandom, firmly into the spotlight.


I'll be honest, I don't get into fan-films, or their literary sibling, fanfic. I prefer the official versions of the geek properties these things parrot, and generally I'm more interested in people's original work. I support the idea of underrepresented groups using fanfic/fan-films as a way to tell the stories they're not getting from the real versions, of course, but over the past few years it seems like changes in geek culture may render that reason moot soon, rather than later. Either way, the point is: It's not my scene.

But I was curious, so i went looking.

I found lots of Batman. I found lots of Star Wars films. Lots. Lots of Zombies too, and a surprising amount of Predators. Seriously, there were LOTS of Star Wars films.




So I'll be sharing those. Get ready.

I have a couple of regular short films ready to share too, of course, but those are for later. 

And finally, awhile back Director Edgar Wright released a list of his 1000 Favorite Movies. It was a good list. It was an interesting list, but at a 1000 entries long, it felt less like a list of favorite movies, and more like just a list of movies. So while it was neat, it wasn't all that insightful. Shorter lists seem to say more about a person, I think, because hard decisions have to be made. So, thinking about this, I decided to try it. I decided to try to make a list of my Top 20 Favorite Films, with the added rule of only one film per Director allowed.


I've been working on it for awhile, and I think it might finally be done. Maybe. I'll probably hem and haw a bit more, but... yeah, it's pretty much done, so I'll be posting about that soon enough. And by the time all this stuff is done, well... the end of the year looms once again, my friends, and that means it's just about time for some end of the year lists.

Big plans. Big plans. I'll keep you all updated.

See you soon,
Jon